Vacationing with an Adult with Intellectual Disabilities

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA
Going on vacation is always an exciting experience, but if you will be traveling with an individual with an Intellectual Disability (ID), it can also be an excellent opportunity to increase his independence and expand his sense of community. With good planning and support, vacationing with someone with ID can be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you.
The most important thing to keep in mind when planning this vacation is to make sure the individual with ID is interested in the trip that you are planning. Does he want to go to Florida, or would he rather go somewhere else? Including him in the vacation planning will go a long way toward engaging him with all aspects of the trip. This will help him practice making choices and communicating his needs.
It will also be important to understand his ability to tolerate the actual travel to and from your destination. There are ways to prepare him for experiencing various modes of transportation (i.e., airplanes, busses, trains, boats). For example, part of the preparation for a trip that requires an airplane ride might include a visit the airport you will be departing from prior to your vacation. This may be helpful because he will have an opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of an airport before the day of departure. A preparatory visit will also help you determine what he will need to make the actual trip more pleasant.
When you head out on your vacation, be sure to bring items that are easily stored and can be easily accessed (i.e., books, magazines, food, iPad, iPod.) because traveling can be unpredictable and boring.
If special accommodations are needed for transportation, lodging, and/or visits to special sights, it is important to call ahead to see what is available. Fortunately, the world is becoming more aware of the needs of people living with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities. However, information on accommodations is not always readily available. For this reason, people with ID and those who support them may need to advocate for their needs and should not feel that they can’t ask or they are asking for too much. Businesses that serve adults with ID can improve their bottom line by appreciating their diverse needs as tourists. They may not change their policies overnight, but it pays to speak up and let them know how to better serve this population.
When you reach your destination, relax and have fun! If possible, try to have a daily schedule that the person with ID has developed or has helped develop. Go over the schedule frequently and be ready to make changes as needed. Good communication can prevent many misunderstandings and will make it more likely that a vacation from the vacation will not be needed when you both return home!
Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Clinical Director for the Western Massachusetts division of the May Center for Adult Services. She can be contacted in West Springfield at 413-734-0300 (ext. 262) or at
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. The May Center for Adult Services in West Springfield provides day and residential services to adults with developmental disabilities living in western Massachusetts. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit